Food Production short story by Iris Carden
The food we grow is more important now. Things on Earth are bad. Throughout the 2020s national governments on Earth did their best (or most of them did) to curb climate change. I guess they prevented the worst, but it was too late to prevent all of the effects. Fire, flood and drought have just become more and more frequent.
Earth is still able to export some food, but it’s not producing nearly enough to feed the Earth’s population, the Moon’s population and us. Mars Corp forgave us our loans, and gave us an ongoing subsidy for our farming, and offered us paid time off our regular jobs to work on the farm. We still get to keep the profits to either invest in the farm or to actually take as a reward for our investment.
On top of that, Mars Corp is allowing other staff paid time off their regular jobs, and the loan of whatever other resources we need to scale up production so we can provide the bulk of the food needed here.
At first we were afraid Mars Corp was trying to take us over, but we’ve got a secure agreement that it’s still our business, but as part of their responsibility for the well-being of the people they’ve moved here, they’re going to assist with resources.
That gave us the boost we needed, that and Sarah solving the regolith problem. For each new greenhouse, we have Mars Corp staff dig out regolith to about two metres deep and the entire area of the greenhouse to two metres around the perimeter. Then, it’s processed, using the same equipment that’s used to process ore, to remove the minerals which are dangerous to food growing. It’s then replaced and the greenhouse is built over it, with Mars Corp staff providing the work for the build. These new greenhouses are so much bigger than the first one we built, with Mars Corp engineers all offering (since their time is paid anyway) to build us better greenhouses.
We’ve imported earthworms and I even got my chickens from Earth. A Mars Corp engineer built us a moveable chicken coop, so we can put the chickens inside and move them from greenhouse to greenhouse. Once the vegetable crops from a greenhouse is finished, we move the chickens in and they process the leftover plant material in the way that chickens do. They help fertilise and turn over the soil for the next set of crops. They also provide eggs, which are very welcome. Importing layer mash from Earth was costly to begin with, but we’ve started growing grains that chickens eat, so that is making a difference.
The head chef from the canteen is looking at my chickens and has a plan for when they get too old to lay. I suggested they might be too tough to eat by then, but he assured me he could cook in a way that overcame that. I don’t like the idea of this happening to my chooks, but then again, we need food, and once they’re no longer producing eggs, we have to make room for chooks who do lay.
We’re starting a plan to get beehives, one for each of the new, gigantic greenhouses. That will make pollination much easier than running around with tiny paintbrushes brushing pollen from one plant flower on to another. Before we get those, we need to start planting some perennial flowers, to keep up the supply of pollen and nectar. That will also mean we’ll be able to sell cut flowers – something no-one expected on Mars.
Each greenhouse has a balance of fruit trees, which will keep growing, and vegetables which need to constantly be replanted. We’re collecting seeds from each crop to plant the next one. Because we effectively manage the climate inside the greenhouses, we’re able to grow just about everything all year round.
Well, that’s the firsts on the gardening front. Our farm is becoming an integral part of life on Mars.
Now that Mars Corp is is so heavily involved, perhaps this will get more than a sentence or two in the official history of Mars after all.
There’s another big “first” coming. Sarah and Howard’s baby will be the first child born in the Mars colony. I’m happy for them, at the same time as I’m worried about the healthcare available here. I always remember that first day on the moon, when Kim warned me about needing to have my own basic first aid and pharmaceuticals. I hope everything goes well, and that the resources here are enough.
Thinking of Kim, there’s something else which should go down in my little history here. I spent my holidays at Armstrong, with Kim, in her residence attached to the colonists’ outfitters. She spent her holidays here with me. In the history of long-distance relationships, Moon-Mars has to be one of the longest. But it’s going well despite that. We talk on email every day.
Kim’s started her own mini farm on the Moon now, copying what we’ve learned. So far, none of the big businesses on the Moon have offered her any support, but she owns the absolute best colonists’ outfitters, so she does have some money to work with, and we help her all we can with information and advice.
As I write this, I’m sitting in the newest greenhouse, with hens pecking around nearby in regolith we’ve processed to make it the first Martian “soil”. Somewhere out there in the black sky is a little white dot where I began my life, and another where I began the adventure I’m on now. Behind me is the Mars Corp staff accommodation, and behind that is the mine. In front of me is the vastness of the empty, still as raw and mysterious as it has ever been.
I am a Martian farmer, who still occasionally does a bit of work in Planetary Administration. I have trouble remembering what I expected when I came here, but it wasn’t this. It wasn’t this exciting and wonderful. I am happy.